Have you heard the one about…? We’ve all heard different things about yoga, or perhaps you have an idea of what it is because of what’s perpetuated in the media, especially in the West. But traditional yoga is not what you think. Let me break down and debunk for you some of the most common yoga myths I’ve heard.
Myths… I love a good story, I really do. In fact, currently, I’m studying some of the Puranas (Hindu mythology) to better understand the roots of yoga. Because stories are important to human development and to understanding the world that surrounds us. And because as a yoga student and practitioner I feel compelled to honour the tradition it comes from.
But here I’m not going to talk about Vishnu or the tales of Shiva, the myths I’m referring to are opinions or limited beliefs rooted in ignorance that end up treated as truth. Unfortunately, that happens a lot in yoga.
So let’s examine some of the most prevalent YOGA MYTHS
1. You have to be flexible to do yoga.
Ok, I get it, if your only experience of yoga is seeing photos of ‘yogis’ looking like Cirque du Soleil pretzels, it’s understandable to think that.
First of all… flexibility is a ‘side effect’ of yoga, a consequence of practising, not the other way around!
But even if you practised for years… you might never be as flexible as others, because human anatomy is almost as varied as snowflakes. And you could be a very advanced yogi and not even be able to sit cross-legged!
So, flexibility is NOT a pre-requisite, it’s a consequence of practising… but NOT THE AIM.
From the physical perspective, yoga is about mindful movement. It’s an attitude of presence and self-acceptance, focusing more on ‘how’ than on ‘what.’
From the philosophical perspective, yoga stems from a history that’s more than 2,000 years old, and yoga poses are only one small part of a larger practice that includes ethics, breathwork, and meditation.
2. Yoga will automatically make you happy.
One of the biggest myths people have about doing yoga is that it will make you calmer and happier.
The image of the ‘peace and love at all costs yogi’ or the endless stream of ‘positive vibes’ we see in some social media profiles, can quite damaging to this ancient practice. And to our self-esteem. If you are practising yoga but still have feelings of anger, or sadness, you might think there’s something ‘wrong’ with you. Not.At.All.
We live in the world, and we can’t avoid life. All of it. The good things, the sad things, the unjust things, the things that make us grief, or angry or love…
Yoga helps us shift our perspective and our response to the things that inevitably will happen. Not avoid those things.
This is key… we should not be running away from unpleasant feelings either; ‘only good vibes’ is avoidance. And we want to experience and observe all of our feelings and through yoga get to know ourselves better.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Khrisna defines yoga as:
Samatvam yoga uchyate (2:48): Samatvam is yoga; equanimity is yoga.
Samatvam is being able to maintain one’s balance of mind in success and failure, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, and that it is the aptitude of a perfect master who remains equipoise in all circumstances. That is the yoga of equanimity.
We learn to observe feelings with equanimity, knowing they will pass too. And with time, maybe we can even learn to delay our reaction to certain events and not let our emotions take absolute control.
I could talk for quite a long time about this one! So much to unpack. But let’s move on today.
3. You have to be young/old/fit to do yoga.
Various myths rolled into one.
Err… I’m not going to reveal my age here… but… Am I proof enough that you don’t have to be young? Despite practising some form of yoga since the 90’s, I only got really ‘serious’ about it from 2015, and took my first teacher’s training in 2017, before turning 50! In fact, I’ve met people who started doing yoga in their 60s and later.
At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve heard the opposite, that yoga is only for old people because it’s ‘just’ gentle stretches.
There are many modalities of yoga, for all physical abilities, including chair yoga! And similarly to the ‘flexibility myth’, you gain more strength and endurance by practising regularly.
I’m not going to get now into all the different types of practices and how they can affect you differently.
I just want to say: explore, try different teachers, be curious, and find the one that works for you at this moment of your life.
I practice regularly Hatha, Vinyasa and Yin, sometimes with more power and strength building, other times more gentle. Depending on how I feel on the day or what I want to achieve (relaxation, more energy, focus?)
4. Doing more advanced poses means you’re better at yoga.
Argh… so much to say about this one too! haha.
For starters, yoga is not the physical practice that we seem to be so fond of in the West. In fact, some schools of yoga don’t ever do a single Down Dog!
According to the Vedanta philosophy, Yoga is not only the practice, it’s also the state you reach. You can reach the state of Yoga (capital letter) via practising four different 4 paths, depending on your personal tendencies:
Karma Yoga (the yoga of action), Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of love and devotion), Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge and intellect) and Raja Yoga (the one we mostly practice in the West, includes asanas or physical postures, ethical principles, pranayama, mediation, mantras and other techniques)
So, not only you don’t need to do postures to be ‘advanced’, but even if you practice a physical form of yoga, it’s not about WHAT but HOW you approach a pose. Yes, I said that in point one, but it’s worth repeating.
You might be doing the most complicated of arm balances but are huffing and puffing, or looking around, or doing it ‘for the Gram’ or with a mind that is full of pride and competition. That’s not yoga. Neither physically nor in mental attitude.
Like with so many things, like in acting, in yoga, less is more.
And talking about acting. If you are a performer… here’s a bonus myth for you:
5. Yoga is only a type of warm-up exercise.
Yes, yoga can be an excellent physical warm-up before a performance of any kind, it can help you focus and energise your body. But there’s much more it can do for you. As a tool for personal and professional growth.
Harnessing the strength, flexibility and control that comes from the physical practice of yoga will make the performer’s body more versatile but I’m particularly interested in exploring how the more nuanced practices of yoga, the meditative side, as well as the breathing techniques and philosophical side, can help create mental and emotional balance, growth and resilience.
If you want to know more, check out this blog – What is Yoga for Actors
Is there any other ‘myth’ or belief you have, or heard, about yoga? Let me know in the comments!
If you want to know more about yoga philosophy and how to apply it to your everyday life… you can start exploring the 6 part series… ‘Vinyasa and the Yamas’
Montse has been working for the last 30 years in the world of theatre and performance as a director, mentor and performer. Her passion for sharing her knowledge and her desire to help others realise their true potential has led her onto the path of yoga teaching.
Her classes are relaxed, friendly and with elements of yin, yang and humour where everyone feels welcome, regardless of their skill. Montse’s motto is ‘be your own template’, both in life and in yoga…
Your shape is unique and so is your life so don’t follow the ‘should be like this’ crowd and don’t try to fit into anyone else’s path, find your own… on and off the mat.